How to think bigger than big

Years ago, I asked a four-year-old “What’s the biggest thing in the world?” and I was told – with some conviction – that it was a hippopotamus.

Well, everything’s relative.

Give “big idea” a Google, and you’ll see dozens of definitions, ranging from end-lines to TV spots, even social posts. “We need a big idea” has become common language in marketingese, but its scale seems to have diminished over time.

At The Smugglers, we call them ‘energising ideas’, the ideas that need to get through. Come up with your own name if you like, they come with several identifiers.

As we work so closely with our clients, the first one we see is the energy they give off. Not a little buzz, but lightning bolts. We’ve seen an austere Russian client jump to his feet and start hopping about, a European CMO cry with joy, and a financial services client fall off their chair.

Ideas with energy are so powerful, ownership spreads. And because they are transcendent people feel free to run with them.

They motivate organisations. People become proud of where they work – and when they are not working, they have a story. In turn, this attracts and retains talent.

Executions become expressions of excitement and conviction – strong enough to spend less on media while still hitting objectives. It’s the reason Honda spent £20 million a year less than the competition and gained an advantage.

Energising ideas resonate with customers. Suddenly there’s clarity and purpose. Messages linger, and people want to become involved. Also, there doesn’t seem to be so much risk. Quite the opposite – things can’t wait to be made.

Finding your story

Here are some starters:

Go Deeper: You need to mine. Not dig. You need to go deep into the organisation, riches tend not to be sitting on the surface. Poke about in press releases, check social activity, look for interviews buried online, and importantly – talk to people. It’s surprising the gems that you’ll uncover simply by having conversations. A single quote from a fund manager, was the springboard to a complete positioning.

Go Back: Start at the beginning. Research the origins, look for genesis. The original vision of Octavia Hill (the founder) is even more relevant for The National Trust today.

Go Outside: You also need to know what to avoid. What’s the sector cliché, what is the competition up-to, where is there clear water? Proofpoint (digital security experts) is a good example. When all the competition were talking about was how close they are to being impenetrable we realised that that the most dangerous attack was the one that got in, turning the energy of the category to our advantage.

Go Compact: Keep the core team small. It creates more energy, locks focus and increases your chances. So, choose the crew carefully. A creative, a strategist and a great client can make great things happen.

Go Dotty: Interesting things happen when you join the dots. Look for patterns in culture, customers, products and services, and include the other information you’ve brought to the surface. Precision Print was moving into a new future, they needed something that bridged their new focus to a different customer base. Digital love print™ was born to unleash an exciting new world of digital printing.

Here’s a quick checklist to see if you’ve got a Energising Idea:

  • They FEEL different (you know you’re on to something)
  • They give generously
  • They inspire action
  • They build relationships
  • They change minds and behaviour
  • They move organisations forward
  • Engage employees, customers and society
  • They are alpha ideas*

And of course, energising ideas must drive return, bottom-line value and make businesses more important to people.

Speaking of important people, I asked the same four-year-old (now at University) again what she thought the biggest thing in the world was. She thought for a moment and told me “love”.

Now there’s an idea with energy.

Have we left anything out? What energising ideas have you seen that have this power?

*Alpha ideas have a hierarchy over other thoughts. In other words, they can “eat” other ideas – simply because they are bigger.

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